Mythical Animals from the Bible
English translations of the Bible mention many animals that do not actually exist. Some people take this to mean that these animals did exist in Biblical times. However in many cases all we are seeing is a series of questionable English translations of ambiguous words, or words with multiple meanings. Some examples are given below. This article is a work on progress; feedback appreciated. In most cases I will give examples from the King James Bible.
Job 40:15 states"Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox". Quite a few modern commentators insist this reference is to a dinosaur, proving that humans and dinosaurs exited at the same, relatively recent time.
"Behemoth" is an essentially untranslated word; a Hebrew word meaning 'large beast'. The animal referred to an behemoth in this passage is no longer known for certain. The elephant and hippopotamus are the most commonly suggested possibilities.
Various versions of the bible refer to dragons, for example: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”(Revelations 20:2 KJB). Translations differ but most of them reference the dragon in this line. This references most likely is to a dragon but seem likely to be intended as a metaphor rather than literal. the same interpretation applies to other dragon references in the bible, that they are intended in a symbolic sense.
Job 29:18 is sometimes rendered as: "Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days like the phoenix." (NRSV), But the word interpreted as phoenix is khol which may actually refer to the palm tree, but in most translations is thought to refer to sand.
Rashi explains the use of the translation phoenix thus: “It is a bird whose name is chol, and death has no power on it, because it did not taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. At the end of thousand years it renews itself, and returns to his youth.”
The unicorn is mentioned several times in the Bible, in the King James version it is mentioned nine times as a translation of re'em, or one horn.
Often this is in the context of a magnificent wild animal or an animal than cannot be tamed. While this translation is logical it is more plausible that the original authors were referring to the wild ox, or auroch, which went by this name. In fact every English translation other than the KJB renders re'em as wild ox or wild bull.
These animals would not have been known to many early translators, and are now extinct. However there is some hope that aurochs could be largely recreated by selectively breeding hybrid animals.
Isaiah 13:13-14 states: "And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest."
The word translated here as satyr ("sa‘ir") could also be interpreted as goat, devil (in the pagan form of a goat). In any case, the meaning of the phrase is that a place has become wild or a wasteland, where wild goats might roam.
- Lion Men
More by this Author
Are zebras always striped black and white? You might be surprised!
Animals that don't usual have stripes, with stripes!
The symbolism of Christmas includes many animals. Both those associated with the Christ story and earlier pagan traditions.